The Shabbos App

My students approached me today with an interesting question. They discovered someone is claiming they have developed a “Shabbat App” which “allows you to Halachically use a Smartphone on Shabbos”.
After reading the material on their website, I discussed it in class. Below is a summery:

1. The foundational logic of it is false and very disturbing:

Currently, using a Smartphone on Shabbos is prohibited. Unfortunately, this does not stop many otherwise observant Jews from using their devices on Shabbos, and can make Shabbos harder for the more adherent observer that do not use a Smartphone. The Shabbos App will give us all a way to keep shabbos with all the stringencies and still take full advantage of the wonderful technology the world has to offer.

As I told the students, it would be like saying – since there are so many people who aren’t Shomer Negi’a (and/or “find it difficult to not be”), let’s come up with rules of how to minimize the חיבה (affection) aspect of touching – only through clothing, only after stipulating that it isn’t affectionate touching, etc… As one of the students said – “that’s ridiculous. No one who touches girls would care about any of those things”. Exactly. I don’t believe there is anyone out there who is texting on Shabbat but at the same time is stringent with Brachot before and after eating. Meaning, people who are texting on Shabbat do not do so because they find it difficult to manage without cell phones.
They do so because they do not care enough about Shabbat and are violating other איסורי (prohibitions) of Shabbat as well. There is a concept in Halacha called הלעיטהו לרשע וימות – we do not have a responsibility to minimize an איסור for people who intentionally violate Halacha. Furthermore, if we did do this – it would serve as a destructive blow to Shabbat as it would open the door for other people – who wouldn’t otherwise dream of using their phones on Shabbat – to start doing so.

2. In their list of possible issues that using the phone on Shabbat entails, the writers miss the biggest issue. They list possible איסורים (prohibitions) – Mav’ir, Boneh, Kotev, השמעת קול, etc… but say nothing of the main issue – ממצוא חפצך ודבר דבר – from which מוקצה and other איסורי דרבנן (Rabbinical prohibitions) come, of differentiating Shabbat from weekdays. For many Poskim this is also the reason we do not use many electrical appliances on Shabbat and not because there is any actual איסור מלאכה. Throughout history our rabbis made sure to maintain the unique distinction between Shabbat and weekdays, making sure that during Shabbat people not only not create but also not be engaged – in action or thought – in weekday endeavors. I can think of fewer things that would empty Shabbat from all that is beautiful about it. Think of the quiet of Shabbat, the quality time with family and friends, the Shabbat meals and songs, the special atmosphere in and outside Shul, the Drashot, classes and lectures and the long hours of rest. How much of that would continue if cell phones – the instrument which most isolates us from our immediate surroundings – were permitted on Shabbat?

3. The possible מלאכות and ways they are “fixed” through the supposed app are riddled with mistakes. To name two of them:
– The idea that a battery heating up is אסור משום הבערת אש is very childish. Fire is not an issue of heat. Like most Melachot, it’s an issue of (יצירה) creation.
– In the “solutions” it mentions that a גרמא (causation) system will allow typing to be delayed and random. This idea is one most well known from the Tzomet solutions. The obvious difference being that Tzomet comes up with solutions because there is:
A. An actual Halachik need to violate Shabbat such as for sick people, for security and safety and other similar situations.
B. An extreme loss of Oneg/Kvod Shabbat, such as disabled people and the like.
In order so people who have to violate Shabbat or cannot function normatively on Shabbat the Halacha has a solution: The Mishna says that גרם כיבוי is מותר, the רמ”א conditioned that this can be used only במקום הפסד (in a place where there is loss) and the Poskim of our generation have said that security and health needs qualify as מקום הפסד. Equating cell phone use to any of these is nothing short of a gross abuse of Halacha.

It was a great discCellphone on Shabbatussion with my students. Though they didn’t agree with everything, they understood the logic I presented as well as my claim that whoever is behind this is not coming at it will pure intentions by any means as they are completely disregarding the most problematic aspect of the question.

And if you need further proof that this has little to do with concern for Shmirat Shabbat and are wondering what is really behind it one may not have to look much further than the price of the app – 50 USD. Then again, I know of much cheaper ways to מחלל שבת…



14 responses to “The Shabbos App


    Yitz Appel, who presents himself as one of the developers, wrote me a response, followed by a response by me.

    Rabbi Yair Spitz,
    With all due respect, we (including associated poskim and developers) at Shabbos App humbly disagree with your post.
    To start with, let’s address the foundation of why we making this app. The fact is that today most (more than 50%) of orthodox youth are texting on Shabbos. Once someone feels that they are doing an averah already – i.e. texting on Shabbos, it is easier to start doing more averyos and slip away from observance – just ask anyone who works with youth who will corroborate this.
    This does not mean that we should go about permitting things that are prohibited. However, if something is currently a derabonon at worst, then to devise a way to make it permissible is a mitzvah, as people are doing it anyways! Furthermore, and most importantly, it will allow people who currently feel they are breaking Shabbos or “keeping half Shabbos” and thereby keep them from the averyra goreres aveyra syndrome.
    It would probably be a good idea to go over with your class R’ Shlolo Zalman Aurbach’s tsuvah on electricity in Minchas Shlomo. Explain his opinion and show where he says that using electricity on Shabbos for non ma’avir items is ok, he even matirs using a telephone ON SHABBOS! Then came along the Chazon Ish and came up with this theory that it is boneh and soser.
    As unfortunately what happens lots of times is the fanatics take over – and want that Judaism should comply with every single opinion that is out there, and even though the Chazon Ish was a das yochid, his psak stood – and is considered accepted today. However, one important fact to keep in minds is that before R’ SZ retracted his psak in deference to the Chazon Ish, he has no problem that using a phone on Shabbos was zilzul Shabbos – he felt it wasn’t – because it was muttar!
    Add in that the Oruch Hashulcan was initially matir turning lights on and of on Yom Tov, he did not see a zilzul problem either!
    With regard to ma’avir not being heat we disagree. If one were to create light from static electricity, there is absolutely no issur whatsoever – even though you are creating light. The issur is when there is heat – i.e aish.

    I responded back the following:

    With all due respect, I find your response to me more revealing and far more problematic than everything else I’ve seen about the app so far:
    1. How dare you say that over 50% of Orthodox teens text on Shabbat? This is הוצאת שם רע of the worst kind. I have been working with Orthodox teens – in Israel, the US and Canada – for over 20 years. My students have open conversations with me about what they, and their friends, do and do not observe. This number is a gross and malicious lie. Is it possible that for the mere sake of marketing a product you would have us believe the absolute worst about our children and youth?

    2. You claim that if someone is doing an Issur (what difference does it make if it is an איסור דאורייתא or an איסור דרבנן? Have we become Kararites suddenly?) it is a Mitzvah to make it permissible. Interesting חידוש. I’ve never heard this before. I’d love to hear where you took this from.
    If that were true I have some other great ideas:
    – Many teens don’t put on Tfilin every day when on vacation. This is a Bitul Aseh. Let’s tell them to make sure to have an area on their body which is very dirty, or even a bit smelly. They will be פטור from putting on Tfillin until it is removed as you are not permitted to put on Tfillin with an unclean body.
    – A lot of teens don’t like going to Minyan in the morning. They wake up and don’t go to Shul. Let’s advise them to go to sleep really late at night but to make sure to go to sleep before the beginning of the day and only wake up after Zman Tfila. Their missing Davenning is no longer an Issur as they never became חיב in Tfila.
    – A lot of people find Brachot tedious and complicated, even though Birkat Hamazon is דאורייתא. Let’s advise people of how to eat in big enough intervals in such away that they are not חייב in saying the Bracha.
    – Some teens have pre-marital sex. This involves several Issurim but the worst of them, by far, is ביאת נידה. Let’s advise young women to go to the Mikveh first. Although they will be עובר on a תקנה that single women shouldn’t do Tvila, we would be saving them from an איסור כרת.
    All of these are far better ways for avoiding an Issur than your suggestion (as you haven’t avoided the main issue – see below). There is only one problems with my suggestions:
    If people are not putting on Tfillin, not Davenning, not Benching and sleeping around but “love Judaism” – what exactly are they loving?

    3. I fear you didn’t understand what I wrote. You misquoted and misrepresented several of the opinions you brought but I won’t correct them as they have little to do with what I wrote. I specifically wrote that you are completely disregarding the main problem with your suggestion which IS NOT the actual use or manipulation of electricity, rather ממצוא חפצך ודבר דבר. I even wrote that that is the source for the Issur of using most electrical appliances – according to what I consider the prevalent opinion – that of Rav Shlomo Zalman Oierbach. My students and I discussed this at length about a month ago.
    Your response to me did not respond to any of this. This is not an issue of זלזול in Shabbat. ממצוא חפצך ודבר דבר, which originates from the נביאים was Paskened as Halacha and serves as the root of so many of the Halachot that are part and parcel of our Shabbat observance – מוקצה, אמירה לנוכרי, wearing special clothing, הכנה and many of the שבותים, to name a few.
    To try and convince people that what stands behind this initiative is concern for their relationship with Torah and Mitzvot is, I’m sorry to say, sinister. More likely, what stands behind it is what stands behind every other app in the world – personal gain (fame and/or fortune).


    Rabbi Spitz,
    Please see this article about Orthodox teens texting on Shabbos, perhaps you are unaware of how common it is

    I answered:

    1. Interesting that out of the many, many articles out there on the topic you chose to reference the one that states the highest percentages and is based on anecdotes and concludes that “some say half of Modern Orthodox teens text on Shabbat”. You choose not to quote the empirical research done by professors Goldberg and Pelcovitz from the Azrieli Graduate School of Education who, based on a 1200 teen survey, put the number at 12.2%. That’s less than 1 out of 8 kids (
    Not great but by no means any greater than the number of Orthodox teens who do not wear Tzitzit or put on Tfillin every day. Far less than the number who are not Shomer Negi’a. Meaning, the focus on this seems to be more sensational than anything else and in our case – economically driven.

    2. I’m eager to hear any kind of response to the main point I raised – that the biggest issue here is not Issurei Melacha, rather, ממצוא חפצך ודבר דבר – removing a fundamental distinction between Shabbat and weekdays which is from the נביאים, then the Rishonim and at the root of so many of Hilchot Shabbat.


    Rabbi Spitz,
    With regard to ממצוא חפצך ודבר דבר this is an opinion based matter, and not defined in halacha. A similar issue was raised regarding Shabbos Clocks by R’ Moshe Feinstein which most people seem to completely disregard.
    A very important proof: When R’ Sholozo Zalmen allowed using a telephone on Shabbos (before retracting in deference to the Chazon Ish), dont you think he though of ממצוא חפצך ודבר דבר? ממצוא חפצך ודבר דבר Was NOT the reason he retracted his psak. I think we can gather that if R’ Shlomo Zalmen had no problem of ממצוא חפצך ודבר דבר with someone using a telephone as usual on Shabbos then a smartphone would be no different with respect to ממצוא חפצך ודבר דבר.

    I responded:

    A. I apologize for the need to be so blunt but you are very obviously not truly familiar with the sources you are referencing. Rav Shlomo Zalman Oirbach did not מתיר using a phone on Shabbat in any way shape or form. You are either misunderstanding or misquoting partial sentences from a lengthy and complex Halachik discussion. It can be super summarized (and superficially so) in the following way:
    In the context of arguing with the Beit Yitzchak, RSZ says there is no problem of מוליד in a telephone. Even so, he says it is absolutely forbidden to use a phone on Shabbat as people will not differentiate between the case of a telephone and turning on lights and therefore should not be permitted unless there is a צורך גדול – a dire need. An example of such a dire need that he mentions later on is that he gave a Psak that his mother can use an electrical hearing aid. Later, when he learned of the Chazon Ish’s ruling that using an electrical appliances is a מלאכה because of בונה and סותר, he said he regretted permitting this to his mother.
    Now you tell me – how did you get from that to the fact that “R’ Sholozo Zalmen allowed using a telephone on Shabbos before retracting in deference to the Chazon Ish?”.

    B. This is not opinion based. ממצוא חפצך ודבר דבר is from the prophets. It is true that it is up to the Poskim of every generation to recognize what does and does not fall into this category but none the less, this has been one of the most important aspects and protectors of Shabbat throughout our history. Your indifference to it is very revealing.
    With regards to the parallel you drew from Rav Moshe’s discussion about a Shabbat clock – it is not at all similar:
    A. All of the actions to do with the Shabbat clock are done BEFORE Shabbat. On Shabbat you are not doing anything other than enjoying the result of an action done before Shabbat.
    B. The extent of what the Shabbat clock does is minimal – instead of reading to the light of lamps until 11pm you can now read to the light of electricity until 2am. Instead of eating slightly warm food that has been sitting in a closed oven – you can have hot food. None of these touch upon the core experience of Shabbat. All the things for which we use a Shabbat clock just enhance the things we are already doing/not doing. You are talking about breaking down one of the few barriers that still exist between Shabbat and weekdays. That is exactly whatממצוא חפצך ודבר דבר is – that Shabbat is to be unique and distinct.
    The reason this Mitzvah exists and used so prevalently in Halacha is exactly because Shabbat is not just about what is אסור and מותר as part of the 39 מלאכות.
    This part of Shabbat seems completely absent from any of your discussions and materials. And for that – I am truly sorry for you.


    Yosi wrote:
    Rabbi Spitz,

    I’m going to use your last post to demonstrate very clearly for everyone how you are being intellectually dishonest. Here are your words “Even so, he says it is absolutely forbidden to use a phone on Shabbat as people will not differentiate between the case of a telephone and turning on lights and therefore should not be permitted unless there is a צורך גדול – a dire need.”

    Now, when someone says “ people will not differentiate between the case of a telephone and turning on lights and therefore should not be permitted..” the ineluctable conclusion is that a telephone is mutar while lights are assur, and we do not want people mixing up telephones and lights”

    Additionally, to quote “therefore should not be permitted unless there is a צורך גדול – a dire need.” Now, we don’t ever allow people to violate any issur for a צורך גדול. Therefore, clearly, once again, the inescapable conclusion is that using a telephone is not not an issur, but rather a sensitivity,likely, to the Chazon Ish.

    It is our intention to let people decide for themselves, as Boruch Hashem today laymen have much more information available to be able to make informed decisions

    Last, I want to bring to your attention that in the kol koreh against Rabbi Moshe Heinemann signed by Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, Rav Nisim Karelitz, Rav Shmuel Wozner, and many others, it says “In our opinion, use of “Sabbath Mode” to change the temperature of an oven on Yom Tov represents an assault on the sanctity of Shabbos and Yom Tov and will lead to deterioration in their observance. We hereby declare that one may not rely on “Sabbath Mode” operation to adjust oven temperatures on Yom Tov despite the presence of a Hechsher on these ovens.” Now, we all know that Rabbi Moshe Heinemann is a fine upstanding talmud chacham of the highest caliber.

    Sometimes, people paskin with their emotions, not the real and accurate halacha. That needs to change, and it is our intention to let people decide for themselves, as Boruch HaShem today laymen have much more information available to be able to make informed decisions.

    I wrote:

    You are – again – misquoting RSZ. You are saying the exact opposite of what he wrote. You cannot quote a half sentence – that there is no Issur Melacha in using a phone – and not continue his quote, which is: אך חושבני שהמון העם אינו יודע כלל להבחין בכך ויכול לטעות ע”י זה לומר שמותר גם להדליק ולכבות את החשמל בשבת, ולכן אף לדידן אין להתיר דבר זה כי אם במקום צורך גדול (his final words translate as – therefore, even according to me it should not be permitted unless in a place of dire need). Let the readers of these back and forth comments decide whether RSZ did or did not permit using electricity on Shabbat. His ruling – even before the Chazon Ish’s discussion was part of the picture – was that it is forbidden (except in dire need). Period. Any other claim is a lie.
    At the end of the day, even though RSZ did not attach the Issur of using electricity to any of the 39 Melachot, he forbade it – Halachically – as Hilchot Shabbat extend beyond the question of which of the 39 Melachot does it fall under.
    This brings me back to the concept of ממצוא חפצך ודבר דבר and to the fact that you keep on diverting the conversation to the wrong area.

    There are 2 different perspectives of Torah & Mitzvot being represented here. One which views Torah as a list of rules and regulations – that’s it. If it doesn’t fall under the category of one of the 39 Melachot – there is no problem with it.
    This is the approach you seem to be advocating. Using this approach one could “get away” with a lot more than using a cell phone on Shabbat: leave your TV on all Shabbat and watch a game or a movie (you could even take the batteries out of the remote and disable the volume and on/off buttons – just to be sure), you can program your radio to go on to hear the news, you can get out of the obligation of Davenning and wearing Tfillin (as I demonstrated in an earlier comment). I can come up with 50 other examples of how one can get away without doing any Issur. This is the understanding you seem to have of what Torah and Mitzvot are. In which case – I don’t blame you for trying to find ways to use your phones on Shabbat. In fact, with that approach I find it hard to understand why you would keep Mitzvot at all. Honestly. If Torah and Mitzvot and if Shabbat are just a long list of what you can and can’t do – I understand the distaste for it and the constant search for ‘what can we get away with’. (To be clear – I am not trying to be sarcastic in any way right now. I really think that would be the logical conclusion).
    The other approach, though, is one which knows that Torah is much more than a list of “dos and don’ts”, rather that all the “dos and don’ts” are part of something bigger. The proof that – at least in the context of this discussion – this approach is the correct one is ממצוא חפצך ודבר דבר.
    Why did Yeshayahu Hanavi (through נבואה from Hashem) add the concept of ממצוא חפצך ודבר דבר? why weren’t the 39 Melachot that were given to us in the desert enough? The answer is because the realities had changed and the 39 Melachot were no longer sufficient to fulfill the purpose of Shabbat – תשבותו/ למען ינוח / וזכרת, etc…
    This is why this category is the one that has been used throughout history to make sure Shabbat remains Shabbat – no matter what social and technological changes take place – to have special clothes for Shabbat, not preparing or speaking about certain things, אמירה לנכרי, Muktzeh and many other aspects of Shabbat.
    This is an approach that does not view the “dos and don’ts” as restrictive, rather, as gateways into the essence which is Shabbat – the basic covenant between Am Yisrael and Hashem – a fundamental of Jewish life as well as one of the greatest gifts Am Yisrael has given the world.

    Now you tell me – which one of these perspectives does your app promote and fit in to?

  5. Mordecai Segall

    Rabbi Spitz,

    Could you please clarify, while being as specific as possible, what aspects of using a smartphone fall under ממצוא חפצך ודבר דבר? And can you please explain how those uses qualify for ממצוא חפצך ודבר דבר? Thank you.

  6. Carly Davis

    I would like to see a new video in which they have the Orthodox rabbis explain why it is okay, not some ridiculously caricatured cartoon characters. I’d like to see who these rabbis are and their credentials.

  7. Carly Davis

    Also, I’d like to know why they are charging a ridiculous amount of money. If they actually want to make it seem as though people keeping half shabbat are now keeping full shabbat and that’s their main goal, why make it so expensive? Surely no one already breaking shabbat is going to pay $50 so that they aren’t breaking it.

  8. anonymous

    I’d like to comment on the supposed “grama” of the app. It’s not grama. By any stretch of the imagination. Here’s why:

    In any touch screen, capacitive, resistive, or anything else, on any smartphone will register every touch/stylus. Even if the app running randomly ignores some interaction, the operating system will register everything. Unlike a “kosher switch” which may or may not complete a circuit, any touch on a touch screen will.

  9. Thanks! Especially appreciate your correspondence with the developers. This whole saga is just sad.

  10. Pingback: Shabbat App Source Sheet | Torah & Judaism Today

  11. Daniel

    I’d also like to see the Rabbis who are supposedly backing them up. I doubt they exist.

    Some of their responses show a tremendous disrespect towards Rabbonim. So what if R’ SZ Auerbach deferred to the Chazon Ish? If he did, why shouldn’t you? And you say the Chazon Ish was a daas yachid, well, wasn’t R’ Shlomo Zalman as well?

    Later, in the mention of the letter against R’ Heinemann, they accuse some of the biggest Rabbonim in the world of using their emotions to pasken, instead of looking at the halachah. They therefore completely disregard their opinion on the matter. That is 100% wrong.

  12. WARNING: I went on google play to check out the app there (not that I’d ever consider using it) and it says there it won’t be ready till the end of 2015 not 2014 as claimed on their website… yet they want the money now! This sounds like a real scam no different than the notorious Nigerian 419 scams… and people not paying attention maybe scammed out of their money! They certainly don’t appear to be acting l’shem shamayim!

    This is what it says on google play:
    “NOTICE: The current version does not function. You are buying and downloading a pre-version that will be updated to the full working version on Dec 1, 2015.”

    Draw your own conclusion.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s